Visiting their experimental mini-festival will allow some insight into the musical minds of contemporary folk group Lau, finds David Pollock
Last year’s bold experiment to turn Edinburgh’s New Year’s Day into a hub of artistic entertainment went down wonderfully, with the inauguration of art event treasure trail, Your Lucky Day. This year’s version has been tweaked into the same-but-different Scot:Lands, an exploration of Scotland’s artistic contours through ten separately themed locations curated by a different group of artists. For most of those involved it’s a step into the unknown, but for Edinburgh-based contemporary folk group Lau it’s business as usual.
Even the name is unaltered, although for reasons of uniform branding their previously inaugurated Lauland has become Lau:Land for the day. “The first time we did this was when we curated a whole weekend of music in King’s Place in London last October,” says Aidan O’Rourke, the trio’s fiddle player, “which was around the time of our album launch. We had people like King Creosote, Jon Hopkins and various others involved, so Lauland has existed as a thing in the past, it’s something we’ve been doing for a while now, curating mini festivals, and its hopefully something we’re going to continue with throughout 2014.”
O’Rourke neatly sums up the rather bold but intriguing premise of the day. “What we’re trying to do with the event on 1 January is to have people step into an alternative world,” he says, “to go through the doors of Lauland and to enter into a zone which encompasses what our influences are as a band, the music that we love and the style of music that we’re trying to get across. So it’s a little insight into our musical minds.”
Which venue Lau have been given to work with must remain a secret until the day, but their plans are fair game. Rather democratically, the band – which also features Kris Drever on guitar/vocals and Martin Green on accordion/vocals – have chosen to fill their allotted time and space with artists they know from their home city’s burgeoning alternative folk scene.
“The venue we’re in has two rooms,” he says, “so we’re going to split what’s happening. In the main room we have Tim Matthew, who’s normally behind the mixing desk making Lau sound wonderful. We’ve let him loose as an artist.” Those who are familiar with the Edinburgh scene might also recognise Matthew as the frontman of locally popular Edinburgh outfit Mystery Juice. “He’s an interesting sonic artist himself,” continues O’Rourke. “He works with various forms of electronic music as well as playing fiddle, and he’s going to collaborate with a harpist from Belfast whose name is Una Monaghan, as well as Semay Wu on cello..
“Also in that room we’ll have Fraser Fifield and Graeme Stephen, who go out as a folk-jazz duo,” says O’Rourke. “So they’ll be performing in their own right, but also within this visual, sonic feast that Tim’s setting up. Then in the other room we’ll be performing, doing repeating 20 minute sets, and there’ll also be Mary Macmaster and Donald Hay, who are a harp, drum and vocal duo.”
Ask O’Rourke about the thought that went into curating these musicians and their complementary sounds, and he says the first impulse was to reflect not only Lau’s home city but also the very location of the concert itself. “The folk scene has evolved into quite an experimental one in Edinburgh,” he says. “It’s a small but active community. The ethos of Lauland, when we sat down and devised it as a brand, is also on experimentation and collaboration, so that’s what we’re trying to do here.”
The hope is that this event can start Lau’s 2014 on anything like the high that 2013 began with: in short order, they had just released their third album Race the Loser, been featured on Later With Jools Holland and performed as part of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay line-up, with a Celtic Connections appearance shortly after.
“In some ways I didn’t think 2012 could have been beaten,” says O’Rourke, “but 2013 seems to have gone really well too. We basically toured the album right through 2013, so there was a lot of travelling. The highlight for us was probably a trip to play at Womad in Australia and New Zealand in spring. We played Japan, that’s our sixth trip over there as a band.”
In this post-Mumfords climate (although Lau are a much more rarefied sound), it seems as though they’re currently sitting atop the crest of a wave in terms of a folk revival. “We feel pretty fortunate to be part of this wave of interest in folk music,” says O’Rourke, “which isn’t just within the hardened folkie audience, it seems to be a lot of young people getting into it. It’s brilliant.”
Scot:Lands is at a series of secret locations across Edinburgh on 1 January. Start at the National Museum of Scotland at midday. All events are free. For more information, visit www.edinburghshogmanay.org/events/scot-lands